“Who is there big enough to love the whole planet? We must find such people for the next society.” ~ E.B. White
Writing at Bearings, Heidi Shott offers a moving reflection on the privileges and consequent responsibilities of being followers of Christ. She begins with a story of a dinner at a high end restaurant in Santa Fe, New Mexico and her interaction with one of the servers;
As the young man put the plates before us, we automatically did what we do when something special is offered with gracious attention from the hands of another human being. We stopped talking and complimented the gorgeous food. Then we thanked him profusely, looked up at him, and smiled. In accented English he said, “You’re welcome.”
But then, as he stepped behind our table to make his way back to the kitchen, he whispered, “Thank you for being polite,” and was gone. We looked at each other with stunned expressions as our hearts sank.
We can only surmise that our young waiter felt moved to thank us for treating him like a fellow human being because he endured hundreds of encounters with patrons who did not. How many times must he have been treated with disrespect or dismissiveness? How many times must he have been treated as though he were simply not there?
I couldn’t help thinking how comfortable it is to belong—to a family, a neighborhood, a school community, a church. Belonging offers a cocoon of privilege so cozy, so blinkered, that it’s hard to see beyond to those on the outside. It takes a remarkable act of will—or an accidental encounter with grace—to bust out of those safe, familiar places.
Sh then offers several other experiences of the kinds of barriers we erect to keep the world at bay and how she began to realize that she too participates in systems of exclusion. So, reflecting on them and discerning the dark truth of how our fears enable and empower them, she also discerns that it is the hope of God which offers us a way out and another way of life;
In his essay “Intimations,” written two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, E.B. White observed the snow falling outside the window of his farmhouse in North Brooklin, Maine. He wrote,
“Since I started writing this column snow has begun falling again; I sit in my room watching the re-enactment of this stagy old phenomenon outside the window. For this picture, for this privilege, this cameo of New England with snow falling, I would give everything. Yet all the time I know that this very loyalty, this feeling of being part of a special place, this respect for one’s native scene—I know that such emotions have had a big part in the world’s wars. Who is there big enough to love the whole planet? We must find such people for the next society.”
Who is there to love not only the whole planet but also the actual real live people in it? Each person we encounter at a restaurant or coffee shop is a beloved child of God and deserves our courtesy and consideration. But the next society requires more of us.
The Baptismal Covenant found in TheBook of Common Prayer used by Episcopalians asks if we will “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” The promise requires us to seek Christ in all persons, not simply to serve those whom we encounter in our everyday lives. After all, helping familiar people is easy . . . but God asks us to do more than that.
God expects us to extend the privilege of belonging to others. It’s part of the transaction of loving God and being beloved by God. Rather than resting in our comfortable cocoons of privilege, we are called to go out of our way—to seek justice along unfamiliar paths that are inconvenient and involve venturing far beyond our safe walls of belonging. Befriend a refugee family. Tutor a young asylum seeker. Mentor a newly released prisoner.
Be prepared that very little of it will go according to script. And be prepared to be blessed in unexpected ways. With God’s help, seek to be the person whose words and actions cause hearts to soar.
Heidi Shott is Canon for Communications and Advocacy for the Episcopal Diocese of Maine. She has been awarded a Polly Bond Award of Excellence in Theological Reflection from the Episcopal Communicators. Her news stories and features about the church and essays about faith in daily life have appeared in Episcopal Life, The Witness, Trinity (Wall Street) News, and several Forward Movement publications, among others. She blogs at “Welcome to Heidoville.” Follow her on Twitter @heidomaine.